About Translink Ulster in Bloom
Sewing the seeds
The idea seeded in 1977 when Craig Wallace, [then Director Belfast Parks], had discussions with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board regarding Northern Ireland's participation in the annual national Britain in Bloom competition. Britain in Bloom, then organised by the British Tourist Authority, had been operating since 1963 and was already established in England, Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, with much of the local organisation being undertaken by local 'In-Bloom' committees in conjunction with the various tourist boards. In 1978 Craig Wallace decided to enter Belfast in the city category of Britain in Bloom, since no similar competition existed in Northern Ireland. The entry was accepted and it subsequently merited selection as a city finalist gaining an award for new landscaping.
Ulster in Bloom
The initial success encouraged everyone and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board agreed henceforth to organise a local competition to be named Ulster in Bloom. It was decided better for Northern Ireland to have its own competition with prizes and local presentation, rather than risk getting lost in the large cross water entry which it was felt would be counter productive in the long term. The first Ulster in Bloom competition took place in 1979 and this attracted 12 entries. It is organised annually through the 26 Councils who decide which places will be entered each year from their respective areas. Entry forms are usually issued in December with entries being accepted until the end of April.
How it works
Ulster in Bloom, judged around Mid July to Mid August, is accepted as a regional heat of Britain in Bloom. The Northern Ireland judges, [ladies & gentlemen with horticultural expertise], travel in pairs and follow prepared itineraries so that every place is visited by 2 judges over a 3-4 week period. Besides selecting the best city, large town, town and small town, large and small villages etc., judges also make a few special awards and choose those places likely to best represent Northern Ireland in the national competition. Originally Northern Ireland was only permitted to enter 2 places in Britain in Bloom but subsequently this was been increased and currently we are allowed to enter our 5 best places which includes an entry in the Coastal Resort category. The number of places we are permitted to enter from here, is dependent upon the total entry within Northern Ireland, which can vary from year to year.
Judging and categories
The Britain in Bloom judging panels visit all the entries the following year, [once unannounced in spring and again in summer announced]. The results are subsequently declared at a national awards presentation - usually held in England in the autumn. Two places are then further selected from the Britain in Bloom finalists to represent the United Kingdom in the European Entente Florale competition, which involves some twelve nations.
Places are judged and marks allocated in respect of the quality and extent of landscaping, planting, maintenance, innovation, features and absence of litter etc. in the following sectors:
Institutional / Public Bodies
Private and Commercial Housing
Sponsorship / Publicity Efforts
Overall impact etc.
The competition aims to improve and enhance the townscapes and environment of Northern Ireland through the imaginative use of trees, shrubs, flowers and landscaping besides sweeping away eyesores of litter, graffiti, vandalism and dog fouling etc. Condition and suitability of street furniture is taken into account, as well as efforts in conservation, recycling and publicity.
Benefits of Ulster in Bloom
Benefits following the annual announcement of the winners, includes increased numbers of visitors who travel around the various towns and villages to see the floral displays. Shops and businesses in the respective communities report considerable increase in their business for weeks afterwards. In addition, people perceive these floral places as attractive areas in which to live resulting in properties being in demand thus increasing the value. It's also a magnet for the property developers and subsequently this leads to new building or renovation projects which create employment.
The competition provides good business for garden centres and instills local pride, creates awareness of the environment, encourages cross community participation and involvement for those of all ages and abilities, which in turn discourages vandalism and produces a saving in costs to councils, etc. It also helps to re-vitalise those declining shopping areas in towns and villages trying to compete with the large supermarket shopping precincts often located out of town. It’s also reasonable to suggest that florally enhanced refurbished areas will help to encourage the business community to return and recommence trading, thus re-vitalising those declining neighbourhoods.
Another dimension is that of health and healthy living. Gardening is a very therapeutic activity good for body and mind and in this very health conscious age gardening provides wonderful exercise in fresh air. Besides, allotments or plots are increasingly being sought not only as vehicles for exercise, but as a means of growing and producing fresh fruit and vegetables grown organically or otherwise! I suspect councils will come under increasing pressure to provide suitable land for this type of recreation. Tourists like residents are attracted to shop, relax and spend money in clean, pleasant, lovely surroundings. Such pleasant environments have great appeal for industrialists and others seeking to set up new businesses in Northern Ireland.
A clean tidy florally enhanced landscape is a lasting memory for visitors to take home and talk about. The competition aims, the results achieved etc. support the N.I. Tourist Boards "Gardens & Demesnes" product, which is sustainable and attracts visitors from around the world who have horticultural and garden interests.
Ulster in Bloom contact information: Mark Maher, Ulster in Bloom, c/o Northern Ireland Local Government Association, Unit 5B Castlreagh Business Park, 478 Castlereagh Road, Belfast, BT5 6BQ. T:028 90798972 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org